Wrongful Death and Survivor Actions
What is a wrongful death lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is brought when someone dies due to the intentional conduct, negligence or gross negligence of another person or entity (such as a manufacturer of automobiles or heavy equipment). Such a lawsuit is usually brought by the deceased person's immediate family members, as representatives of the deceased person's estate, and seeks compensation for the deceased person's lost wages, loss of companionship, funeral and medical expenses from the time of injury until the time of death (if the person did not die instantaneously).
What is a survivor action?
A survivor action is the part of the lawsuit brought by the deceased person's estate for the damages that he or she could have recovered had he or she not died. These damages included but are not limited to the decedent's lost wages between the time of injury and death, medical expenses, pain and suffering.
Who may file a wrongful death or survivor action claim?
Typically, those who may bring wrongful death actions are called "representatives" and are usually the "executor" or "personal representative" of the decedent's estate (the "decedent" is the person who passed away). The authority of the representative to be the executor of the decedent's estate must come from the decedent's last will and testament or by court order. Persons who may be named executor's are typically close/immediate family members, but this is not always the case.
Persons other than immediate family members of a decedent who may make a wrongful death claim are same sex-spouses, those financially dependent on the decedent and "putative spouses." Additionally, in some jurisdictions, distant family members such as siblings and grand-parents may bring claims, as well as persons who have suffered financially from the decedent's death (even if not related by blood or marriage).
An interesting situation arises where the parents of a deceased fetus are permitted to bring a wrongful death action for the negligent loss of the fetus's life. (Maryland permits these suits, while the District of Columbia does not).
What kind of damages can be claimed in a wrongful death lawsuit?
The types of damages that can be claimed by the party bringing the wrongful death lawsuit are: (1) Economic damages and (2) Non-economic damages. Sometimes, "punitive" damages are awarded (these damages are only awarded when the at-fault party's conduct has been found to be malicious, intentional, reckless or wanton (meaning, he or she exhibited a conscious disregard for human safety or life).
Economic damages are those measurable damages which the decedent would have made to the survivors and include: loss of the decedent's expected earnings/income, loss of retirement benefits such as pension plans, and medical and funeral expenses associated with the decedent's death.
Non-Economic damages are more complicated to calculate since they are not calculable dollar-for -dollar. These damages include: loss of the care, protection and nurturing from the passing of the decedent, loss of love, society and companionship from the deceased, mental anguish, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium (if the person making this claim is the decedent's spouse).
Why you need a diligent and dedicated attorney to represent you in a wrongful death lawsuit:
Losing a loved one as a result of someone else's intentional or negligent conduct, can be the most traumatic experience one can endure. Of course, during such a time, no one wants to deal with the matters involved in seeking compensation from the at-fault party or their insurer. Allowing a competent attorney to handle these matters for you and your family is the prudent decision to make and will also ensure that you are able to recover the maximum amount of money possible for the loss of your loved one.